Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Houston 17, Tulsa 45

My girlfriend and I were in New Orleans with some friends of hers last weekend, so I was luckily able to avoid watching this shitshow of a game. The Cougars, needless to say, were humiliated by the 1-5 Golden Hurricane in a game they were double-digit favorites to win.

There was nothing good, and everything bad, to write about in this loss. The Cougars led at the half but gave up 38 points to Tulsa in the second half. The defense was steamrolled for 288 rushing yards. The offense was stagnant and turned the ball over three times. As for the ugly, I'll let John Royal explain:
Tulsa lost by a 62-28 score to Tulane last week. Tulsa has also suffered losses to Toledo and New Mexico. Against the Cougars, Tulsa looked like the best team in the American Conference. This game was so ugly to watch that it can compete with losses like those to Texas State (Tony Levine’s first game as head coach) and to UTSA (the first ever game played at TDECU Stadium). There were no moral victories. There was nothing redeeming about the loss. 
“We didn’t play well at all,” head coach Major Applewhite said. “We didn’t play well enough to win the game, but give credit to Tulsa and to Coach Montgomery. They came ready to play; we didn’t. We didn’t come ready to play and that’s on me. We talk about it all the time, but week in and week out, you’ve got be ready to play your A-game every Saturday.”
Coach AppLevine Applewhite apparently went on to state that water is wet, that the sky is blue, and that the University of Houston settled for him instead of hiring a "name" coach to continue the program's momentum, and therefore now risks falling back into mediocrity.

Next up for the Coogs is a Thursday night home game against Memphis. UH will do well to not give up more points to the Tigers than they did to lowly Tulsa.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Houston 35, SMU 22

The Cougars bounced back from a 7-12 deficit in the first half to defeat the SMU Mustangs at TDECU Stadium last Saturday, avenging last year's miserable loss to the Ponies and winning that all-important first win in division play.

The Good: Running back Duke Catalon had a career game, rushing for 177 yards and two touchdowns; UH's ground game accounted for 265 yards overall. QB Kyle Postma completed 19 of 27 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass from D'Eriq King on a trick play, and was never sacked. The defense intercepted SMU QB Ben Hicks twice and also sacked him twice. The Mustangs struggled against the UH defense on third down, converting only 5 of 14 opportunities. SMU also missed a field goal right before halftime.

The Bad: Hicks and his receivers were nevertheless able to do damage, torching the Cougar defense for 397 passing yards. Postma had two interceptions, both of which were the result of poor decisions to throw into double coverage. Although he had a good game overall, Catalon also dropped a sure touchdown pass.

The Ugly: Although the Cougars were only flagged for four penalties overall, two of them were rather stupid and unnecessary personal foul penalties. The ability - or lack thereof - of the UH secondary to tackle in space is atrocious.

What it Means: the Cougar offense finally found two things that had eluded them up to this point in the season: a strong running game and an offense that could score in the second half. I can only hope that this is a sign of things to come.

The Coogs are now 4-1 and travel to Tulsa to play the struggling Golden Hurricane.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

There are no answers.

A bit over ten years go, I pondered about "the search for answers" after a deranged student went on a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus and killed 32 people. At the time I wrote that:
[A]t the end of the day, it might be the only explanation: there are crazy people amongst us, and sometimes they do crazy, violent things, and sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Since the time I wrote that, more crazy people have done the same thing, time and time and time again. An elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. A movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. A church in Charleston. A nightclub in Orlando. Fort Hood. San Bernadino. There's a list.

Sometimes they've been motivated by religious or ethnic hatred. Sometimes they're just mentally deficient. In every case, they are crazy and deranged people that take advantage of our (uniquely American) society's penchant for easy access to firearms to do damage and take lives.

And now, 59 dead in Las Vegas. Courtesy of some guy who seemed like a perfectly normal person. Days later, they still can't find a motive.

Maybe we'll know the gunman's motivations as the investigation continues. But maybe, the "search for answers" is pointless:
At the moment, no one has any idea why Stephen Craig Paddock brought a deadly arsenal up to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, hammered out a window, and opened fire on a crowd of country-music fans two nights ago, killing at least 59 and wounding more than 500. 
Eventually, the full story will come out. It has to, given the number of investigators currently on the case. And when it does, it’ll be morbidly fascinating, especially given Paddock’s lack of any sort of criminal record and the apparent absence of any hint of online anger or radicalization. But his story also, in a very real sense, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because we already know many of the reasons why America is a dark outlier when it comes to gun violence in the developed world, with rates far, far higher than those found in similarly wealthy, developed nations. 
This might seem like an odd thing to say. Certainly there are important lessons to be learned from Paddock’s motives and thought processes, and from how he acquired his weapons. In a limited sense, yes. But from a policy perspective — from the perspective of actually figuring out how to prevent more massacres — no, not really. If the United States’ political system weren’t utterly broken with regard to gun policy and gun research, we’d be well on our way to ameliorating this problem based on the information we already have.
We'll offer meaningless "thoughts and prayers" about this, we'll have debates that go nowhere, and we'll deal with this again. Maybe next month. Maybe next spring. Maybe a year from now or maybe tomorrow. It won't matter.

There's nothing that can be done. There are crazy people, there are hateful people, and there is easy access to firearms that this nation's death merchants gun lobby will never allow to be limited, in the name of selling more firearms second amendment freedoms.

There are no answers. There is no solution. This will continue to happen.

God bless America.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Houston 20, Temple 13

The Cougars flew up to Philadelphia and flew home with a win.

The Good: Kyle Postma took over as starting quarterback and completed 25 of 36 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown. He was also the team's leading rusher with 81 yards. The Cougar defense only allowed Temple to complete 4 of 16 third down conversion attempts and intercepted the Owls three times.

The Bad: At times, the offensive playcalling was what could only be described as "bizarre." This was especially true in the second half, when the Cougars only scored seven points (I'm just not understanding the coaching staff's zeal for sideways screen passes that fail more often than they gain yardage!). Ed Oliver left the game with a knee injury late in the first half, and the defense was markedly worse without him.

The Ugly: The receivers dropped way too many catchable passes. Houston was penalized 12 times for 108 yards.

What It Means: It wasn't a pretty win, but it was an in-conference win on the road and that's all that matters. But as the season progresses, it's becoming clear that there are significant problems with the Coogs' offense.

Next up for the Coogs is a critical game at home against a strong (4-1) SMU team.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Depeche Mode at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

Although they're among my all-time favorite bands, Sunday evening's concert was the first time I had seen Depeche Mode live in 16 years. (I don't do a lot of concerts...)

A band that has been around as long as Depeche Mode (37 years!) always faces a dilemma when they tour to support their latest album in that they need to strike a balance between the new material that they want to promote and the older material that their fans really want to hear. The Generation-X-centric crowd at the Pavilion clearly wanted to hear the older stuff.

The view from the lawn at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
To that end, the band provided, reaching back as far as 1983 with "Everything Counts," playing two songs off of 1984's Black Celebration ("A Question of Lust," "Stripped"), three songs from 1990's Violator ("World In My Eyes," "Enjoy the Silence," "Personal Jesus"), three songs from 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion ("In Your Room," Walking In My Shoes," "I Feel You"), and one song apiece from 1984's Some Great Reward and 1987's Music For the Masses ("Somebody" and "Never Let Me Down Again," respectively).

They balanced this out with five songs from their "newer" albums (which I consider to be anything from 1997 onward, after Alan Wilder left the band), five songs from their latest album (note to self: listen to new album before going to concert promoting said album), and an excellent cover of David Bowie's "Heroes." Dave Gahan, who is pretty spry for being 55 years old, handled most of the singing duties and did a great job interacting with the crowd and moving about the stage as he did so. He handed vocal duties over to Martin L. Gore for a handful of songs, including "Home" (off of 1997's Ultra).

Martin L. Gore provides a heartfelt rendition of "Somebody"
Of course, there are only so many songs that can be fit into a two-hour set. This meant that several iconic Depeche Mode songs I (and many of those around me) would have liked to have heard - "Master and Servant," "Blasphemous Rumours," "People are People," "But Not Tonight," "Strangelove," "A Policy of Truth," etc., - didn't make the setlist. That just goes back to the previously-referenced dilemma faced by long-lived bands with deep back catalogues like Depeche Mode: you're not going to be able to play everything everyone wants to hear.

This isn't to say I was disappointed; to the contrary, I had a great time, and I introduced my girlfriend, who was aware of only a handful of Depeche Mode's more famous older songs, to a sound I've enjoyed since I was in middle school.

This was the first time I watched a concert at CWMP from the lawn. (Like I said, I don't do a lot of concerts.) My decision to purchase a pair of cheap but functional binoculars from Academy right before the concert turned out to be a good one. Unfortunately, they could only do so much to cut through the haze of marijuana smoke that persisted throughout the concert. I get that Depeche Mode is the kind of music that lends itself to being listened to while stoned, but at times it looked (and smelled) like a freakin' Grateful Dead concert up there!

Texas Tech 27, Houston 24

Turnovers and an inability to do anything on offense sealed the Coogs' fate against Texas Tech at TDECU Stadium last Saturday. The final score makes the game look closer than it was, thanks to a pair of touchdowns the Cougars scored late in the game after Kyle Postma replaced Kyle Allen at quarterback.

The Good: The Cougar defense held its own against Texas Tech's potent offense, holding a squad that averaged 54 points over the first two games of the season to half that. Wide receiver D'Eriq King, who missed the first two games of the season due to injury, scored his first touchdown of the season. Special teams Kicker Caden Novikoff kicked a career-long 45-yard field goal. John Leday had a 47-yard kickoff return, giving the Coogs excellent field position, which the offense promptly squandered. Which brings us to...

The Bad: Where to begin? The offense was inept and ineffective for most of the afternoon. Kyle Allen had two (rather stupid) interceptions, snaps from the center to Allen were continually low (which resulted in one turnover), the receiving corps dropped too many passes, the Coogs were a pathetic 6 of 18 on third down conversions, and the running game was anemic (it says something when your leading rusher is a quarterback - Postma - who entered the game late in the fourth quarter). The Cougars turned the ball over a total of five times. While the defense played well overall, they also got their asses handed to them by the Red Raider offense on a few big plays, including a 83-yard run from scrimmage and a 77-yard touchdown pass.

The Ugly: The game was sloppy - Houston and Texas Tech combined for 21 penalties for 167 yards - and poorly-officiated. Neither defense appeared to tackle very well. Texas Tech missed two field goals and a dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have made the score worse than it actually was. Quite frankly, neither team looked like they are anything more than mediocre programs in their respective conferences.

The Really Ugly: 11 am kickoffs in September suck! Not only do they limit valuable tailgating time, but they also make for an oppressive game-watching experience. Temperatures during the game were in the low 90s, with stifling humidity, little breeze and only intermittent cloud cover. Many of the announced crowd of 36,383 (which was a good showing, by UH's historical standards, but almost certainly would have been a sellout of 40,000+ for a 6 pm kickoff) left at halftime, while thousands more crowded the shaded concourses to watch the game.

I realize that television dictates kickoffs, and that the regional exposure on ABC that Houston received during this time slot is generally good for the program. But I really wish the ESPN executives who make these decisions would make their way down here from Bristol, Connecticut to understand for themselves just how brutal these conditions really are. It's not just about fan comfort; it's about safety.

What it Means: This was a disappointing loss for many reasons: the Cougars lost to a school from a Power 5 conference, lost to a former SWC rival and in-state program with which it competes for recruits, and Houston's 16-game home winning streak is snapped. Even worse, this game exposed some real shortcomings with Houston's offense and also called in to question Kyle Allen's status as starting quarterback. How Major Applewhite and his staff address these shortcomings will say a lot about their nascent coaching abilities as well as the Coog's chances for a successful season.

Next up for the Cougars is a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Temple Owls.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why were homes built inside the reservoirs, anyway?

A previous post included an aerial photo of the Canyon Gate subdivision in Fort Bend County that was flooded when water from Barker Reservoir backed up into it. Which begs the question: since Canyon Gate was clearly behind the dam wall of the reservoir, why was it allowed to be built to begin with? And did the homeowners in that development understand the risk that the reservoir presented to their homes? Naomi Martin at the Dallas Morning News discovers that, for the most part, they did not:
Many of the victims knew little or nothing about the risk they faced. They never purchased flood insurance. They had no clue their homes were built within government reservoirs engineered in the 1940s to fill with billions of gallons of water in case of heavy rains. The undeveloped, government-owned land inside the reservoirs had a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year. But residents' homes just upstream, in the so-called maximum pool of the reservoirs, had a significant chance of being intentionally flooded in the event of a major storm. 
"I feel cheated," said Binay Anand, 46, an engineer who lived with his wife and two kids in a $275,000 home in Canyon Gate, a subdivision in the maximum flood pool. "I was not aware — and none of the residents were aware — that this was flood-prone. If they would have told us, I would not have taken it." 
Anand said he and his neighbors only learned since Harvey that Fort Bend County had issued notice about the corps' plan to use their property as a reservoir on the original plat, which is the county's public land record approving the subdivisions. 
Politicians knew it. Bureaucrats knew it. Developers knew it. But homeowners appear to have been offered little to no notification. 
Even providing the most basic information in the plat's fine print was a political fight at the time, Fort Bend County officials said. 
"It took a yeoman's effort because the developers were saying, 'You can't make us do that,'" said Richard Stolleis, the Fort Bend county engineer. "It was a pretty significant battle — a high-level discussion — before these were put on the subdivision plat." 
County officials believed the plat's warning would be passed through the property's title to every prospective owner at closing. However, many residents said they never saw it. They may have overlooked it or missed it in a stack of documents, or their real estate agents and title workers may have not clearly explained the risk. State law doesn't require disclosure of such notes, experts said.
Not being in the real estate business, I don't know how often plats - and the language contained on them - are included in the pile of documents every homebuyer is presented with at closing. As somebody who used to process plats for the City of Denton, however, I do know that there is oftentimes critical information on that document, which is usually printed in a 24"x36" format, making the text and disclaimers impossible to read if it is reduced down to the legal size documents normally associated with real estate transactions.

As to why subdivisions such as Canyon Gate were allowed to be built inside the reservoir's dam walls to begin with, the simple truth is that there was nothing prohibiting them from being built there. They were outside of the 100-year floodplain property owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers:
The corps didn't feel the need to acquire all the land at the time the reservoirs were built, Long said, because that land was nothing but rice farms and fields where cattle grazed. 
It didn't stay that way. In 1997, developers came before Fort Bend County government for approval to put subdivisions on the pastures. Aware of the flood risk to the area, the county was in a bind. It didn't have the authority to prohibit development or establish zoning rules, said County Judge Robert Hebert, who has been in office since 2003.
Which, tangentially, brings me to something I've wanted to rant about: the idea that the lack of land-use zoning (the City of Houston being famous for being the largest city in the nation without it) is what "caused" Harvey's flooding, or made it worse than it otherwise would have been. This idea (which has been debunked here, and here, and here, and here, and here) isn't even relevant to Canyon Gate, because it is not inside Houston's city limits, and unincorporated areas under county jurisdiction do not have the authority under state law to implement zoning controls.

Beyond that fact, what I've come to understand is that, oftentimes, "zoning" is popularly conflated with "planning," even though they're not the same thing. The latter is a process a city undertakes to guide and regulate its development; the former is just one tool that a city can use in that process. Even though Houston doesn't have zoning, it is not a development free-for-all, and municipalities around Houston that do have zoning laws on the books, such as Bellaire, Missouri City, Friendswood, League City, Dickinson and Baytown, flooded as well.

The region (whether inside or outside of Houston's city limits) obviously needs better regulation in terms of construction in flood-prone areas, floodwater retention infrastructure, and preservation of pervious cover. But land use zoning (e.g. designating what properties can be single-family residential, multi-family residential, retail commercial, office commercial, industrial, institutional, agricultural, etc.) wouldn't make a difference: it would simply mean the same buildings, with the same impervious cover, would have been built in different places. (But what do I know? I'm just a native Houstonian and AICP-certified planner who did zoning work at the City of Denton.)

Getting off tangent, what is the future for homes in flood-prone areas, and entire subdivisions like Canyon Gate? I honestly have no clue, and I feel for the homeowners in these areas who have a lot of tough decisions ahead of them. Entire communities have hard choices to make in the wake of Harvey, and Memorial Day '15, and Tax Day '16. These events may represent a "new normal" that the region needs to come to terms with, and all options need to be on the table in order to confront it.

Buyouts and demolitions of at least some of the homes, apartments and other structures in areas that are chronically prone to flooding will obviously be required (this process has already begun, albeit at a very limited pace), but will not be suitable (or financially feasible) for every home that flooded during Harvey. Perhaps more homes will need to be elevated out of the floodplain or even retrofitted water-resistant materials to make them "floodwater ready." That won't be cheap, either. Nor will the construction of new stormwater detention and discharge structures, including, perhaps, a third flood control structure to augment the beleaguered Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.

As a final thought, the one thing we can probably do in the short term is to throw out the current floodplain maps. Not only have they done a poor job of predicting flooding, the entire concept of the "100-year floodplain" probably needs to be reconsidered as well.

Kirby Lloyd Harding 1927-2017

Although I am no longer married into his family, hadn't seen him in years, and know he had been in ill health for some time, I am going to miss Kirby Harding.

Kirby was as hilarious and as mischievous as he was cantankerous. He made the best seafood gumbo. He was a fan of UH football from the very beginning of the program and even gave me the copy of Jerry Wizig's Eat 'Em Up, Cougars - a history of UH football from its inception to its 1977 Cotton Bowl victory - that currently sits on my bookshelf. And he adored the fact that my son is named after him.

Kirby died just a month shy of his 90th birthday and 70th wedding anniversary. This is his obituary as it appeared in the Galveston County Daily News; however, Lori's cousin read a much longer and more interesting obituary at the funeral service on Monday. If I can get my hands on a copy, I'll replace this one with that one.
Kirby Lloyd Harding born October 16, 1927 in Waco, Texas and went to be with the Lord on September 15, 2017 in New Braunfels, Texas. 
Kirby was preceded in death by his mother, Willie Ables Harding and his daughter Synthia Marie Harding Stevens. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Charldeen Jeanette Watts Harding; three daughters, Sandra Wicker (Tom), Sherry Cass (Ron) and Sharlene Bailey (Brian); and a son-in-law, Larry Stevens;13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. 
Visitation will be at Crowder Funeral Home in Dickinson, Texas on Monday, September 18, 2017 at noon, with a service to follow at 1:00 pm, and a graveside at Forest Park East.

Houston 38, Rice 3

The first Bayou Bucket since 2013 carried more meeting than usual in a city still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. In a show of thanksgiving and solidarity, both teams met at midfield for a pre-game handshake. The Rice MOB joined the Spirit of Houston at halftime for a tear-rending performance of "Amazing Grace," and Mayor Sylvester Turner was on hand to recognize first responders. The game itself, however, was pretty one-sided, as the Cougars bested their crosstown rivals for the fourth time in a row.

The Good: Houston QB Kyle Allen had an excellent evening, completing 31 of 33 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Mulbah Car, Duke Catalon and Dillon Birden each scored a rushing touchdown. The defense forced three Rice turnovers and kept the Owls out of the endzone. The Coogs had no turnovers of their own and were only penalized two times for ten yards.

The Bad: Kicker Caden Novikoff's 46-yard field goal attempt was short; he is now just 2-4 on FG attempts for the season. Rice's two offensive playmakers, QB Sam Glaesmann and WR Samuel Stewart, were forced out of the game with injuries. And, although I know it was because the Cougars were well ahead at the half and decided to put in their second string offense (including QB Kyle Postma), this is the second game in a row that Houston has failed to score any points in the second half. The Cougars went for it on fourth and goal from wth Rice one yard line early in the third quarter and still weren't able to score. I don't care if it is your second team; you should still be able to score in that situation.

The Ugly: Rice fan attendance. I'm not sure they even had a thousand fans at the game, and that includes the MOB. It never ceases to amaze me that so many Rice fans cannot be bothered to drive seven whole miles from their campus to support their team.

What it means: The Cougars looked a lot sharper than they did a week ago against Arizona, which suggests that last week's sloppiness truly was the result of rustiness and hurricane-related distractions. That being said, Rice is not a very good team so it's hard to use this game to determine just how "good" the Cougars really are this season. The real test will come next Saturday, when the Coogs host  former SWC rival Texas Tech in a nationally-televised matchup.

The Cougars now lead the all-time series against Rice, 30 games to 11.

A wake-up call for our elected officials

I don't always agree with former mayoral candidate Bill King, but sometimes he is absolutely right. In suggesting that the State of Texas use some of its $10 billion "Rainy Day Fund" to pay for a least a portion of flood control projects in the Houston region, he writes:
If we fail to address these risks there will be long-term, adverse economic consequences for our region, the State and indeed the entire nation.  The Houston region accounts for almost 30% of the State's total GDP.  As goes Houston so goes the State.
After a week of nonstop national news coverage about how vulnerable Houston is to flooding, what corporation is going to relocate here?  Would you schedule a convention in Houston during hurricane season?  How many companies are going to build a new plant in a place where it could be inundated by a 25-foot storm surge?
Now is the time for bold leadership, not Republican primary posturing.  There is nothing conservative about failing to make investments that we know are needed to avoid future losses.  In fact, it is grossly irresponsible not to do so.
A hundred years from now no one is going to remember anything about bathroom bills or even know what that the hell a sanctuary city was.  But, as we remember the construction of the Galveston Seawall over a century after it was built, our grandchildren will remember whether we, as a generation, stepped up and ended the threat of devastating flooding to our region and the State's largest economic engine.
King believes that rainy day funds could be used to leverage federal dollars to construct flood and storm surge infrastructure such as the "Ike Dike" and a third reservoir to supplement the beleaguered Addicks and Barker Dams.

Unfortunately, I think King is going to discover that the folks who currently run this state (and, for that matter, country) are more concerned about pandering to their wingnut base than they are to protecting the people and economy of the Houston region. Especially when that protection is going to require new revenues to fund it. However, I'd love to be proven wrong.

Harvey was, indeed, a wake-up call. But then again, so were the Memorial Day floods. And the Tax Day floods. And Ike. And Allison...